Valentine’s Day Reality Check: Mammal Courtship

Polar Bear, Svalbard

Think you have it tough to impress your mate? This Valentine’s Day, we’ve compiled a concise guide to the courtship rituals of some fellow mammals to help you think again!

1. Giraffe

 

© Sachin Rai

 

With their absurdly long necks, giraffes have their work cut out in impressing a mate. They cannot simply count on Valentine’s Day, you see.

When male giraffes happen to find females they think they can approach, they will have to perform, like many other animals, what’s called the ‘flehmen sequence’ to see if she is in estrus. They achieve this critical insight by nudging the female’s rump to induce urination and then taking a mouthful of it! Not a very appetising thought now, is it?

2. Hyena

 

Hyena, Kenya

© Phillip Ross

Females wear the pants in the family, and they’ve got balls! We kid you not; female hyenas are bigger and known to be more aggressive than males. Well, here’s why: the females have an enlarged clitoris which they can erect at their will to attract males, like a pseudopenis.

If that seems like a terribly confusing signal, break your head not: this greeting “display” initiated is the only known case of an erection being a subservient sign, because female hyenas put their reproductive organs in direct, unprotected closeness to really strong jaws of the other gender approaching them, as much as it is important for them to attract the latter this way. If a fight breaks out instead of the courtship ritual leading to something pleasurable, the injured ones might even have to compromise their reproductive competence! In sum, not exactly how you’d want the ideal date-night to go!

 

3. Bearded seal

 

© Jayanth Sharma

These highly vocal pan-Arctic animals produce impressive testosterone-fuelled underwater vocal displays to establish themselves as the strongest alpha males as a part of courtship ritual, apart from establishing their own territories to attract females.

But the battle is not just aquatic. Males are required to come out in the open if the matter comes down to fighting and defending their territory or approaching females. For seals that are usually known to be in dreamy torpor, this ritual is quite stark opposite! The females arrive to the well-established territories to find the strongest males and eventually breed. Clearly not smooth sailing, even if you were to allow for the fact that serial monogamy (for the lack of a fancier phrase) and promiscuity are common in them!

 

4. Polar bear

 

Polar Bear, Svalbard

© Jayanth Sharma

 

Are you one of those people who are tired of being labelled ‘anti-social’ while, in reality, you are only solitary? If you think we’re digressing from the topic of interest here, humour us for a moment.

Now, a male polar bear, in the isolated, icy expanses of the world, has to seek a female for mating by following her scent, while remaining undistracted by the scents of other beings he could eat instead. And then, if necessary, he must fight a rival, even risking his dreamy white fur being drench in blood following a brutal battle. This whole titanic process can last for weeks on end and might even prove fatal – all in the pursuit of proliferation. Doesn’t seem worth all the trouble now, does it?

 

5. Indian wild ass

 

Indian Wild Ass, Little Rann of Kutch

© Phillip Ross

 

You might want to stop bragging about how you followed your girl in the gullies and bylanes of your town until you finally managed to woo her. Because, even after establishing a territory and maintaining it just like a polar bear does in its habitat, a male Indian wild ass might not be able to earn a female so easily. Sometimes, she races ahead, and he must literally gallop after her to latch on! After all, she’s free at any time to move between territories and choose the one with the best land. ‘Realty’ check, anybody?

And then there’s this. Some of our movies may romanticise romancing in the rain, but try actually mating while being soaked, like wild asses often do because they tend to court in the monsoon, and the mist will lift from your eyes!

So does being human seem to be the brightest spot at this point? We are with you on this. So, here’s to being human and letting all the emotions that revolve around love that churn within like your heart were an ocean. Give your head (freshly updated with facts) some rest; listen to your heart and have a great time today!

We wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Categories: Articles, Featured, Nature, Travel
Sourabha Rao

Sourabha is a staff writer at Toehold who dexterously gives verbal form to the inexpressible, and with her passion for travel, weaves immersive stories that transcend space and dissolve time.

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